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Draper Journal

Lighthearted melodrama caps off a stressful year for Summit Academy theater program

Jul 08, 2021 12:37PM ● By Julie Slama

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Summit Academy students, shown here at the Pampermouse Circus, put on a one-act melodrama, “Rascals Under the Big Top,” shortly before the end of the school year. (Photo courtesy of Summit Academy)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It wasn’t an easy decision. It took Summit Academy theatre director weeks—months—to resolve, but by January, she knew the outcome: the show must go on.

During COVID-19, many area theatre teachers knew students needed the stage as a safe haven and as a creative outlet for the stressful year, but how to prepare and present the plays and musicals without the potential spread of the virus became the main concern.

For Aimee Rohling, it was no different. Her selection of “Rascals Under the Big Top” by Robert Swift was partially based on the fact that the one-act melodrama could be adapted online, if it needed to.

“We ended up putting it off and putting it off and putting it off because we weren’t sure we were going to be able to do the show this year, so we kept waiting,” Rohling said. “It was January when we knew we would be able to do something. It’s a one-act melodrama, and they’ve had fun learning the style of the old-fashion damsel in distress tie-her-to-the-tracks comedy. I was concerned about getting it done in the circumstances and the time, so this was a really good choice for us. I knew we would be able to transition that to an online performance, so we were really looking for an adaptability to changing circumstances this year.”

While they spent a week filming the show, in case it had to be performed virtually, but that wasn’t the case as the 23 sixth- through eighth-grade students presented the show in person May 13-15 to a 50% capacity, masked audience.

“(Double casting) was the plan initially,” Rohling said, however, she re-evaluated and decided against that plan after January auditions knowing they’d follow the mask mandate during rehearsals. “It was a funny show. It’s got the mustache-twisting villain, the hero and lots of circus folks. We wanted to have a good time and take everybody’s troubles away this year. This was a good way to just keep it lighthearted and have some fun with the kids—and expose them to something new that maybe they weren’t as familiar with this type of storytelling.” 

In the show, thanks to an unscrupulous villain, ringmaster Conrad Mooch (starring seventh-grade Carter Kentworthy) and his partner, Patty Larceny (performed by eighth-grader Aeowyn Kreiling), the Pampermouse Circus is stranded, minus many of its star attractions. Jumbo, the elephant, is missing, and so is Jo-Jo, the loony chimpanzee. Even the dancing bear has waltzed off. Not content to be just the ringmaster, Mooch has a dastardly plan. The circus will belong to him—and Miss Rosie, granddaughter of the owner (played by eighth-grader Reece Scoffield), will be his bride. Besides keeping a watchful eye on Patty and her knife-tossing act, the villain must contend with Jim Nasium, the circus roustabout who’s in love with Rosie (featuring seventh-grader Jackson Hughes). The show leaves the audience wondering if Mooch will destroy the Pampermouse Circus and run off with Miss Rosie or if Nasium will take center ring and save the day. 

Before taking the stage, the cast rehearsed twice weekly for the 40-minute show. Some of the sets and costume pieces were borrowed from other schools’ plays, simplifying their production.

“This is the only show we have done this year. Some of our other classes that normally do some live productions all went to film-based productions. So that was a fun, new skill to be learning for everybody,” she said, adding that Theater 3 students recently presented scenes from Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” virtually. 

By doing this show in-person, Rohling said she enjoyed watching the bonding, interacting and growth of her students.

“I love watching the students. I love watching them have a good time and I love seeing new sides of them on stage,” she said. “I always hope that they can come in and make new friends and that they get put in a position that they try new things and can feel successful in new ways. They can show up for each other and be a team and push for excellence in a performance, persist through difficulties, problem-solve, like when these things come up about, how are we going to pivot if we can’t go on and how do we make it work? I think theater is really good at giving students that opportunity to practice and work as a team and push themselves to be their individual best. I’m there just to be their cheerleader.”